Edema (also known as dropsy or fluid retention) is swelling caused by the
accumulation of abnormally large amounts of fluid in the spaces between the
body's cells. It is a symptom rather than a disease or disorder. Widespread,
long-term edema can indicate a serious underlying disorder.
Signs and Symptoms
These will vary and may include the following.
Swollen limbs (possibly accompanied by pain, redness,
Facial puffiness; abdominal bloating
Shortness of breath, extreme difficulty breathing, coughing up
Sudden change in mental state or coma
Muscle aches and pains
What Causes It?
Imbalance in the body's fluid transfer can be caused by the
Sitting or standing for long periods
Hormonal changes during menstruation and pregnancy
Infection or injury to a blood vessel; blood clots; varicose
Allergies to food or insect bites
Kidney, heart, liver, or thyroid disease
High or low blood pressure; high salt intake
Brain tumor or head injury
Exposure to high altitudes or heat, especially when combined with
heavy physical exertion
What to Expect at Your Provider's Office
Your health care provider will look for varicose veins, blood clots, wounds,
or infections. An X ray, computed tomography scan, magnetic resonance imaging,
urine test, or blood test may be necessary. Edema caused by organ failure or
high altitude sickness may require hospitalization.
Complete decongestive therapy (CDT) involves compression bandages and
pressure "sleeves" tightened over swollen limbs to help force fluid through
other channels for re-absorption by the body. Other options include a
salt-reduction diet, daily exercise, resting with legs elevated above heart
level, wearing support hose, and massage.
Medication for your underlying
disorder—consult your provider
Diuretics—for example, loop diuretics or
potassium-sparing diuretics; reduce body fluid levels but also deplete important
vitamins and minerals, which can result in loss of bone mass; various other
possibly serious side effects
Morphine—reduces congestion and anxiety with
Surgery may be required to remove fat and fluid deposits associated with a
certain type of edema called lipedema, or to repair damaged veins or lymphatic
glands to reestablish lymph and blood flow.
Complementary and Alternative Therapies
The following nutritional and herbal support guidelines may help relieve
edema, but the underlying cause must be addressed.
Eliminating food allergens from your diet decreases
A low-salt, high-protein diet may help edema. (However, you should
not eat a high-protein diet if you have kidney disease.) You should also reduce
your intake of sugar and refined carbohydrates.
If you use diuretics, add more potassium to your diet.
Natural diuretics: asparagus, parsley, beets, grapes, green beans,
leafy greens, pineapple, pumpkin, onion, leeks, and garlic.
Vitamin B6 (50 to 100 mg per day) is a diuretic. The B vitamin
thiamine may be supplemented (200 mg per day).
Vitamins C (250 to 500 mg two times per day), E (400 to 800 IU per
day), and coenzyme Q10 (50 to 100 mg two times per day)
Potassium aspartate (20 mg per day) if you are using
Magnesium (200 mg two to three times per day) and calcium (1,000 mg
per day) help maintain fluid exchange in the
Herbs may be used as dried extracts (capsules, powders, teas), glycerites
(glycerine extracts), or tinctures (alcohol extracts). Teas should be made with
1 tsp. herb per cup of hot water. Steep covered 5 to 10 minutes for leaf or
flowers, and 10 to 20 minutes for roots.
An herbal diuretic is best taken as a cooled tea (4 to 6 cups per day),
although a tincture may also be used (30 to 60 drops four times a day). Combine
three of these herbs with equal parts of two to three additional herbs from the
following categories, as indicated: cleavers (Galium aparine), yarrow
(Achillea millefolium), oatstraw (Avena sativa), elder
(Sambucus nigra), red clover (Trifolium pratense), and red root
For cyclic edema, such as swelling from menstruation:
Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) strengthens the integrity of blood
Bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus) is a gentle
Topical applications of creams containing one or more of the
following may help strengthen your blood vessels: horse chestnut (Aesculus
hippocastanum), butcher's broom (Ruscus asuleatus), sweet clover
(Melilotus officinalis), and rue (Ruta
Homeopathy may be useful as a supportive therapy.
Dry skin brushing. Before bathing, briskly brush the entire skin
surface with a rough washcloth, loofa, or soft brush. Begin at your feet and
work up. Always stroke in the direction of your heart.
Cold compresses made with yarrow tea.
Contrast hydrotherapy involves alternating hot and cold applications.
Alternate three minutes hot with one minute cold. Repeat three times to complete
one set. Do two to three sets per day.
Acupuncture may improve fluid balance.
Therapeutic massage can assist with lymph
Excessive fluid retention during pregnancy (toxemia) is potentially dangerous
to both you and your baby.
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Reviewed By: Participants in the review process include: Joseph Lamb, MD, The Integrative
Medicine Works, Alexandria, VA; Lonnie Lee, MD, Internal Medicine, Silver
Springs, MD; Terry Yochum, DC, Rocky Mountain Chiropractic Center, Arvada,
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regarding dosage, precautions, warnings, interactions, and contraindications
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